Ten years ago, they began to build a new village from scratch on a 'green field' site south west of Kettering in Northamptonshire. They called it Mawsley. Paul Seaton-Burn, curate at Mawsley Church, continues the story.
Now there are around 840 houses, so the local community has come together as an eclectic and diverse group from all over the country, initially as strangers, as no previously community existed. In the original plans, it was intended that a new church building was to be included, but it was never built. The local parish church is a mile away across the fields with no direct access.
Initially a group of people emerged as a small Christian community, meeting in a house for bible study which they called 'Christians in Mawsley'. This ecumenical group maintained a presence over the years, supported by the local Anglican vicar (who lived elsewhere) and a retired Salvation Army officer.
Three years ago I moved with my family to Mawsley in my first post as a Curate. 'Christians in Mawsley' was then a group of Christians coming from different traditions that didn't really reach out to the village. There was a sense of collaboration and enthusiasm but no clear strategic purpose, and I was asked to assist in developing this into what we would call now a fresh expression of church. I was a traditional curate in a benefice to four churches in other villages, but also being a pioneer in Mawsley.
We changed the name to 'Mawsley Church' to reflect the conservative (with a small 'c') nature of the place and its people. While hardly prosaic it 'said what it did on the tin' and was recognised by friends at the school gate. They needed the confidence that this new church was trustworthy. We maintain a broad ecumenical welcome while being supported solely by the Anglican church.
Building on growing relationships with local people in Mawsley we began twice-monthly gatherings for public worship in December 2006. We meet on Sunday mornings in a Community Centre in the heart of the village – very much in secular space – where children's ministry began last year. Small groups have also met, with varying degrees of success, in homes across Mawsley. Larger scale 'messy church' events for children up to 10 years of age and their carers have become a regular opportunity for outreach here at significant times such as Christmas & Easter (and have spread to a nearby village too). We deliberately hold these in Mawsley's local Primary School. These more participative forms of worship have successfully engaged with fringe people, again of the 'de-and-unchurched' type. This year on Easter Monday, we had a Messy Church event and ninety-five children plus their parents and helpers attended. For the first time the school parents' group asked to be involved this year. These events happen mainly because of the participation of many fringe and non-church parents.
We have sought to develop our participation with other village events as a form of outreach to local people. So we play our part in fayres, family 'It's a Knockout' and other social events, and this has increased our ability to build relationships with people who do not go to church. Regular assemblies, a Bumps & Buggies group and starting an annual litter pick have also played their part, too.
The challenge of enabling people to join our community is happening, but must embrace both new and recognised ways of welcoming people. Our all-age remembrance day worship in 2008 was supported by some 240 people.
We now face the challenge of discipling people. So we have a community whose faith needs developing and maturing. So far we have been reliant on formation through action and participation in doing Christian events. So in this way, in a one-to-one approach, we have seen some pre-discipleship development. As my family and I prepare to move on, the good news is that a new ordained pioneer curate, Richard Priestley, is coming to Mawsley with broad experience of nurturing discipleship. This is the next step, to develop a contextual approach to discipleship on top of the relational mission and worship that God has started.
Vanessa describes her experience of Mawsley Church
I came to Mawsley just over two and a half years ago. To put it mildly my soul was broken. I was emotionally battered or in the words of a Pink Floyd classic hit 'Comfortably Numb'.
I had been through several years of two failed and dysfunctional relationships. I was living alone with my two children aged then 7 and 8 and my youngest son lived with his father and I didn't see him. I was lost but still had a glimmer of hope left in me. Mawsley was a new start, my own house at last, but something was missing. I yearned to be an ordinary family, mum, dad and the children, but somehow it had been an elusive dream.
At that time when I look back, God had already manifested himself in my life. A bout of depression had lead me to take solace at a convalescence home, and it was whilst I was there I was introduced to the chaplain. I remember it as a 'ping moment' when I felt I was metaphorically lifted by the spirit of the Lord and held. I was like a lost child being embraced and protected having been lost, and I had a sudden feeling of my pain and anguish being taken away from me, relieved of my burdens that had weighed me down for decades.
I made a conscious decision when I went to Mawsley to invest some time in me. I wanted to discover my spiritual side, and in response to my experience at the convalescent home, I plucked up the courage to go to Mawsley Church. I took the children with me. Everyone was so welcoming and I soon came to learn that the small congregation were all on different parts of their spiritual journey. It was within Mawsley church that I found the family I had yearned for. It was right here on my doorstep.
I learned too that even in the church, there was so much 'brokeness' in the lives of the people I met. One of the good things to come out from this is that the church allowed me not to focus on my own issues, but made me more open to help others in their time of need.
It was through the help and advice from the church, that I permitted myself to let go of some of the things that continued to weigh me down. They showed me that I had a choice and that I could choose to seek happiness, and that happiness has been found through my faith in God and my church family in Mawsley. I had learned to forgive the wrong that had been done to me, and I virtually removed the chains that had paralysed me for so long. My reward is that I now enjoy helping and encouraging others move on from places where they have become stuck.
I was not the only one to benefit from my experiences with our church. The children made new friends, and drew strength from the improvement they saw in me, a happier mummy. The question arose around baptism and I pondered over my decision for many months. I let the children decide whether they also wanted to be baptised. The answer was a resounding yes. I decided it would be a wonderful idea to have a family baptism. I wanted to share this point of Megan and Ewans spiritual journey. I saw my position as their spiritual guide, equipping them with the many tools our faith offered for their later journey in life. On the 28th September 2008, we had the marvellous experience of being baptised by submersion as a family at Mawsley Church. It was an incredibly charged moment for me personally, I could barely hold back my tears of emotion. That day I felt all three of us had turned a corner and we began a new journey strengthened by the love of God.
Charlie my youngest son, is now firmly back in our lives. He is, thank goodness, a happy and well-balanced little boy. He openly admits he models himself on his dad and is influenced by dad's stance towards religion which is predominantly atheist. He however does come along to church with us, and will often revert to rhetorical gibberish about not believing in God because his dad says so, but more recently he competes to say grace at dinner times and has even asked if I would come and bless his house to take away any 'naughty spirits'. I hope in my heart that Charlie will learn to trust the Lord. My job for now is to 'fan his flame' within.